I have to admit that up until very recently I’d never heard of Ico. It only appeared on my radar as a result of being bundled on The Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection and I’m embarrassed to say I almost traded the game on without playing it. What a shame that would have been.
Released on the PS2 in 2002, Ico was the flagship title for the then newly formed Team Ico. As the title bearing name of the developer, Ico never enjoyed commercial success, most likely as a result of poor marketing. It did however receive critical acclaim; earning it several award wins and nominations. I probably would have sailed through life blissful in my ignorance of it if not for my almost insatiable lust for completionism that drove me to give it a go after completing SOTC.
You play as Ico, a young boy who is carried away and banished from his village for the bad omen of sprouting a set of horns. Soon after being left for dead in an abandoned and sinister castle, Ico frees a young girl named Yorda who is imprisoned there inside a cage. The girl, who speaks an indecipherable language, is largely helpless and Ico takes it as his mission to protect her from harm.
As evidenced by the title of this article Ico can be summed up as the longest escort quest in the history of gaming. Leading Yorda by the hand, the player must navigate the castles many puzzles and platforms whilst fighting off smoky/shadowy apparitions which try and steal Yorda away from time to time. The enemies can’t kill Ico but allowing them to steal Yorda down one of their appearing black holes results in what I assume is the world ending and the game over screen. While constanly worrying about another character may sound like something to elicit groans from most gamers, it is by no means a bad thing in my opinion. The mechanic is woven so well into the essence of the game that defending Yorda, often at your own peril, becomes an interesting dynamic. She can never be left alone for too long and is always in your mind whenever you are busy with a puzzle.
According to game director Fumito Ueda, Ico‘s minimalist artistic style was achieved through a “subtracting design” style which makes use of removing portions of the game that jar the immersion. Like SOTC, Ico carries the same feeling of loneliness and minimalism that haunts you all the way until the final credits roll. There are in fact several thematic links between the two games, SOTC was allegedly planned originally as a sequel to Ico and its possible that the two are even set in the same fantasy world. The animations and physics of the game also have that smooth ahead of its time feel that SOTC did. Even after so many years, both titles feel right at home on the PS3 and could probably stand on their own on seventh generation consoles with a few tweaks here and there.
A beautiful, artistic and almost orchestral gaming epic, Ico should be considered as a compulsory must-play for any gaming adept worth their salt. It would have been a damn shame to let this one slip through my fingers. If Team Ico ever get their act together long enough to release The Last Guardian they might have one hell of a story to tell.